After eight hours of Black Friday radio broadcasting on myTalk107.1, talking to dozens of shoppers, and then logging a few more hours at the stores, here are some observations about the day the shopping overtook Thanksgiving, 2013.
1. Shoppers will line up. If the store opens at 5 a.m., they’ll come at 3. If it opens at 6 p.m., they’ll come at 3. We talked to a mother whose son missed Thanksgiving Day entirely, camped out at Target for one of 25 big deal TVs. He was cold, but satisfied when he returned home at 9 p.m., and she saved him a plate.
2. Americans always want another TV. Seriously. How is it possible that people still need TVs? Far and away, the No. 1 item we heard shoppers willing to wait for, the Big TV. Half off, 30 percent off, it didn’t really matter. Most had an amount they wanted to spend, and as long as the Black Friday price fell in that range, they were waiting, and buying.
3. Shoppers love a mystery. We had reports of people lining up at Best Buy by 9:30 p.m. for midnight doorbusters that had not yet been announced. To be clear: These folks did not—repeat, did not—know what they were waiting for.
4. Thanksgiving evening shopping attracts amateurs. It’s real easy to swing by the mall on the way home from Grandma’s house, which is what a lot of curious folks without shopping lists did, thanks to this year’s earlier-than-ever store openings. By 10 p.m. on Thursday, 50,000 people had entered Mall of America. In 2012, by comparison, 30,000 were there for the midnight opening.
5. Early morning and late afternoon are civilized times to shop. At 6:30 a.m. on Black Friday, all was calm at the mall. And by mid-afternoon, it had turned into a bustling, but totally manageable shopping day. If you could live without a doorbuster, those were the most pleasant times to shop.
6. Target is awesome; Wal-Mart has issues. By all accounts, Target nailed the Black Friday experience. Every report we received on the radio was positive: good signage, sale items easy to locate, knowledgable staff, efficient check-out. They even had Target execs Tweeting tips on Thanksgiving night. Meanwhile, from Wal-Mart, there were reports of people sitting on kitty litter cans for hours, waiting for the deals, items being swiped out of carts, parking lot chaos and actual scuffles.
7. Menards is ridiculously popular. Kayaks! Gun racks! Scaffolding! These were the things people were shopping for at 6 a.m. when Menards opened. Spare them your cashmere sweaters, J.Crew.